Suppose no interface is available from your access provider. One option available is to request that an interface be written. Understand, this is not an inexpensive way to go, as you will be quoted a charge to develop it as well as the normal license fee. From the vendor’s point of view, these interfaces are not a good deal, since they already sold you the access system and they are focusing their development efforts on new customers. Still, it may be a viable option worth pursuing. Once again, there will be a great deal of variation in the functionality provided, so be sure there is a clear written specification up front — you are commissioning a software development project.
Finally, be sure to think through and agree on a strategy for support. Who will be responsible for updating this interface when the next major software release of the access or video system comes along? The likely answer is you.
• Replace your access system with one that includes video functionality: Another option worthy of consideration is the replacement of your existing access system with one that supports the chosen video system out of the box. Obviously, this is something to consider only if the access system is ready for an upgrade, but it is important to step back and look at the big picture. Often, the cost of upgrading an existing system simply does not make sense. If your field panels are more than 5 years old, or your software is not the latest version, the investments required to add video to an old system likely are a bad deal.
A variant of buying a new access system with CCTV support is to choose an access control system that has the video recording and management functionality built-in. There are both positives and negatives to this approach. On the up side, the integration is guaranteed to work without the risks of special software development. Since the system is a preferred solution for your vendor, it is often true that the level of integration is deeper and the event-driven functionality is richer. On the downside, be careful that the combined system does not combine two marginal products to produce a less-than-stellar integrated one. (Just like a foldout couch, sometimes a device with two functions does not do either very well). Finally, recognize that this type of system is fully proprietary and as such, there are often risks in terms of the total cost of ownership.
• Purchase a Situational Awareness system: A third possibility is to retain your existing access and video systems, and add a new system over the top of both of them. This approach adds a good deal of functionality in terms of event handling. It often provides the ability to combine many systems beyond access and video, such as intercom, mass notification, alarms and other sensors. Most importantly, it enforces that the response to events will follow the procedures that you require.
If your environment has a significant amount of event response, and you are concerned about providing uniform and timely situational response, this approach may not only provide a solution for those concerns but an access/video solution as well. On the other hand, adding this type of “supervisory” system to all of the other systems you have clearly adds to total complexity.
Why Doesn’t it Just Plug In?
None of the above solutions sound like simple tasks, do they? Wouldn’t it be nice if your video system just plugged into your access system with no special software needed? Everyone — including the manufacturers — think so. With so many examples in our personal life where a product just plugs together and works, how hard could it be? So, why hasn’t it happened?
For much of my career in the security business, people have been talking about open architecture. Often the implication (and in some cases openly stated) was that the manufacturers did not want to provide open products since they “make more money with proprietary.” While it might seem that way, the reality is that making open products is a lot of work. Making a simple interface, documenting it well, and then supporting it is tough, but necessary.
Making plug-and-play products — products that just start talking to each other without special software — goes a level beyond tough engineering. Here, the problem is writing and agreeing on an industry standard for both products to use. No one company gets to do that unilaterally — it takes an industry committee, chaired by well-meaning, hard-working volunteers whose employers let them spend countless hours in meetings to make it happen.